Saturday, August 26, 2006

Musings on the GWOT

While dramatic sounding and apparently important, The Global War on Terror is a fraud. I have commented before on my taking issue with the use of this term, especially when it is used in connection with the invasion of Iraq.
I refuse to legitimize the term War on Terror, both the use of the term and most of the acts committed under its banner, because it perpetuates the conflation of 9/11 and Iraq.
But there are many other problems with the use of the term GWOT. Among them are the facts that it's not really global (any American war-making ability is essentially bogged down in Iraq) and it's not a war -- the only real war was in Iraq (and it wasn't "on terror") and it's no longer a war. But the aspect that I want to address here is the use of the word: terror (and its progeny, terrorists and terrorism, and more recently, Islamofacism).

Much is lost from the discussion when terms like 'terrorists' and 'terrorism' are employed so frequently and so casually. Things could be clarified greatly if we were to endeavour to speak more precisely. I understand that those who first pressed these terms into service (the Rovians of BushCo) did so deliberately, so as to confuse and mislead people, but my concern here is with those among us who have embraced the terms -- who have accepted them into the public lexicon and legitimized them with their use.

When I speak of precision I am referring to the importance of making precise distinctions about what exactly we mean when we talk about terrorists i.e. what characteristics distinguish the terrorist from anyone else. This is the opposite of the conflation practiced by the Rovians whose over-generalizations are deliberate (and akin to Colbert's "truthiness") and whose goal is to make people feel a certain way and to predispose them to support a certain course of action because it "feels true". Indeed, if what is being asserted or framed or "truthied" were true, then what was being suggested might well be the appropriate course of action. But there is no substance behind these assertions -- they don't stand up to scrutiny.

In order to act correctly, one must understand the situation or circumstances in which one finds oneself. In order to understand this, one must have complete and accurate information and have performed some rigorous analysis on it. So, to get back to the so-called terrorists and their antipathy towards the U.S....

There are indeed people "out there" who are angry and the focus of their anger is directed rather generally towards "America", but I think it worthwhile to try to be a little more precise --for example, to distinguish between whether it's the country and its citizens, on the one hand, or it's the leaders and their policies, on the other, which are the target of this ill will. It's equally important to determine who exactly "these people" are and the nature and degree of their antipathy and, perhaps more important still, whether or not they would act on their hatred. Using the term, as BushCo does, to refer to anyone they don't like, is not how it's done.

First of all, this is not a homogeneous group. The fact is that one could define a group made up of self-described "America-haters" and find that you haven't described anyone in the group well enough to locate them on a map, let alone, pick them out of a line-up. The fact that you might have grouped them doesn't make them a group in any meaningful sense of the word. They don't know each other, they don't have the same goals, they don't work in concert (they probably don't even like each other) and they don't even hate the same things about America. So you can see that it is a pretty useless exercise if your goal was to describe or understand these people. But, as I have said before, that wasn't the Rovian's purpose.

As for the causes of this hatred... they hate America because of what the U.S. represents to them or what the U.S. has done to them or to those with whom they empathize. It's not true, as GWB claims, that "they hate us for our freedom". I'm confident that if we got this malevolent group to articulate why they hated America, there would be a long and varied list of grievances. To the extent that there is any commonality in the rationales for this hatred, it is most likely American foreign policy and its consequences for the people we're discussing.

It's interesting to note that very little of this hatred results from American domestic policy -- for America simple being America -- the so-called "hating us for our freedoms". There are lots of people (and I include myself in this category) who feel disgust or contempt for many aspects of western society and its ways. One only has to watch a few minutes of almost any TV programming to see what I mean. But this doesn't make us want to blow up anything or kill anyone. The superficial, materialistic, decadent nature of much of American life doesn't breed terrorists. Sadly, it elicits mostly envy.

As for the degree of this hatred, I'm sure that it is as varied as its causes. At one extreme there are some, as we well know, who would gladly give up their lives to kill indiscriminately as many Americans as possible. But at the other, there are also those who confess to a feeling of schadenfreude when things don't go well for America... but they feel guilty doing so. Surely the spectrum of people between these extremes who make up this anti-American group should not be treated as one. Surely our focus should be on those who would do harm to America(ns). Only these deserve to be called enemies of America, certainly not those who just wouldn't mind if someone gave America a comeuppance, nor even those who would delight in the deed, for these latter groups pose it no threat (unless America is going to stoop to the point of attacking those who simply don't like it).

So we've reduced this group still further... to those who would actually do harm to America. But even within this group of "enemies of America", not all can accurately be called terrorists. For terrorism is a technique not an ideology. Terrorists (whatever cause they might embrace) do things like drop bombs onto crowds of civilians. Their goal is to terrorize the population so that the whole group will start (or stop) doing something that the terrorists would otherwise have been powerless to compel. The key element is that they are terrorizing the civilian population. By contrast, the use of guerilla tactics in fighting against the occupation of one's country by an invading army can hardly be construed as a act of terrorism even if the techniques employed do terrify the invading soldiers. After all that's the goal of war -- to kill or threaten into submission the enemy combatants.

So, rather than terrify the American public into condoning an inept lashing out at vaguely defined boogey-men, which is what BushCo's GWOT has unleashed on the world, it would seem that the goal of a more appropriately named strategy should have been twofold: 1) to prosecute those who have wronged America (Osama Bin Laden et al) and 2) to reduce the likelihood of future terrorist attacks by both preventing the terrorists from succeeding (e.g. better security in American ports) and by understanding the root causes and dealing with them in such a way as to result, as much as possible, in people no longer choosing to attack American civilians (e.g. stop invading and occupying countries and propping up corrupt dictators for starters).

In other words, if one does not wish to live under the threat of attack from one's enemies, one should act in a way that does not antagonize people but, rather, do things that make people become one's allies. However, I suspect that some of the "reason" for the America-hatred that does exist is not rational, thoughtful or reason-based in its origins and against this, America must be prepared to protect itself. These defensive measures are legitimate and, in fact, the duty of the government of any sovereign nation and, taken responsibly, would not provoke the hatred of other citizens of the world. Unfortunately, this is not what BushCo has been doing since 9/11.

Instead, they have cynically used the tragedy of 9/11 to pursue a bone-headed neocon vision of American global hegemony that has resulted in a multi-faceted failure -- the surviving 9/11 perpetrators remain at large, the world is less stable, more people hate America and the military has been incompetently over-extended. The net result of the so-called GWOT is that America is less safe.

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